Album Review: 'Always With Us,' By Ladysmith Black Mambazo

Ladysmith Black Mambazo's Always With Us, remembers the life and voice of Nellie Shabalala, the late wife of the group's vocal leader.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The South African, all-male group Ladysmith Black Mambazo became world-famous after collaborating with Paul Simon on the Grammy-winning, 1986 album "Graceland." Since their beginning in the '60s, the group has recorded more than 50 albums and won multiple awards. Their new release is a remembrance for one of their own, the late wife of the group's bandleader. It's called "Always With Us." Banning Eyre has this review.

(SOUNDBITE OF LADYSMITH BLACK MAMBAZO SONG)

BANNING EYRE, BYLINE: Nellie Shabalala was just 49 when she died tragically in 2002. A few years earlier, Joseph Shabalala had taken Nellie and her all-women's vocal group into a studio, to record a set of church songs. That recording is the basis for this one. Joseph and the guys from Ladysmith have added their voices to the mix as a tribute and a memorial.

(SOUNDBITE OF LADYSMITH BLACK MAMBAZO SONG)

EYRE: Ladysmith Black Mambazo formed as an all-male group in 1960. They became huge recording artists in South Africa, after winning singing contests held in workers' hostels. The Mambazo in their name likens their voices to an ax, sharpened to cut down competitors. Since their international debut with Paul Simon's "Graceland," they've been nominated for and won Grammys of their own.

On occasion, they have departed from their a cappella formula, adding instruments or collaborating with everyone from Dolly Parton to Lou Rawls. Here, the departure is seamless. They've simply added female voices to their signature sound.

(SOUNDBITE OF LADYSMITH BLACK MAMBAZO SONG)

EYRE: This music is a deep fusion of old Christian choral tradition and South African - specifically, Zulu - language and rhythm. Ladysmith has been known to go in for shtick and gentle humor in some of their work. But this time around, the subject is religion.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NANT' IVANGELI")

EYRE: This song, "Nant' Ivangeli," translates: Hear his word.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NANT' IVANGELI")

EYRE: With Ladysmith Black Mambazo, reverence never means sadness or melancholy. Theirs is among the most distinctive and uplifting choral sounds around. And hats off to them for coming up with a creative and heartfelt way to make it fresh. The CD title, "Always With Us," is directed to the late Nellie Shabalala, but the phrase applies equally well to this group whose mark on contemporary music is indelible.

(SOUNDBITE OF LADYSMITH BLACK MAMBAZO SONG)

CORNISH: Banning Eyre is senior editor at afropop.org. He reviewed "Always With Us," by Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

(SOUNDBITE OF LADYSMITH BLACK MAMBAZO SONG)

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